Case enhancement: Glass safety in a heritage building conversion
Activity: Do engineers have a responsibility to warn the public if there is a chance of risk?
Author: Cortney Holles (Colorado School of Mines, USA).
This enhancement is for an activity found in the Dilemma Part two, Point 1 section of this case: Debate whether or not Krystyna has an ethical or professional responsibility to warn relevant parties (“of matters . . . which are of potential detriment to others who may be adversely affected by them” – The Society of Construction Law’s Statement of Ethical Principles).
After introducing or studying the Glass Safety case, teachers may want students to dig deeper into the ethical issues in the case through a debate. The resources and lesson plan below guide teachers through this lesson.
1. Introduce the debate assignment:
Students will debate whether or not Krystyna has an ethical or professional responsibility to warn relevant parties. Build in some time for students to prepare their arguments in small groups (either during class or as a homework assignment). Create small groups of 2-5 students that can develop positions on each of the following positions on the question of the debate:
Does Krystyna have a responsibility to warn Sir Robert or future residents of the buildings about the glass?
- YES, according to the Society of Construction Laws (or other professional society’s) ethical codes or standards;
- YES, according to a personal and ethical obligation of Krystyna as a young professional;
- NO, according to the standards of the company and expectations by superiors and/or professional norms or standards;
- NO, according to personal or ethical obligations and needs of Krystyna as a young professional.
2. Supporting the arguments in the debate with texts:
Provide students with resources that offer support for the different positions in the debate, listed below. Perhaps you have assigned readings in the class they can be asked to reference for support in the debate. Teachers could also assign students to conduct independent research on these stakeholders and positions if that matches the goals of the class.
- RAEng/Engineering Council’s Statement of Ethical Principles
- Institution of Structural Engineers Code of Conduct
3. Running the debate in class:
- In a previous class session or at the start of the debate, ask students to record or anonymously report their personal response to the debate question for comparison and discussion after the debate. These responses could serve as a basis for personal reflection, a progress check, or even as a component of an assessment. You could ask them to report on this question in several different ways: Do engineers have a responsibility to warn? When do engineers have a responsibility to warn? Why do engineers have a responsibility to warn? Who do engineers have a responsibility to warn?
- Give students time to talk in their groups before the in-class debate begins so that they can compare notes on their argument and evidence/reasoning, and decide who will speak. You may want to direct how students in the groups will divide the speaking responsibilities for their position, especially for time management or participation according to the limitations or requirements of your teaching situation.
- Consider what amount of time you have for the debate and provide students with a structure with time limits for each argument and response. For example, let each of the four positions present their case for 2-3 minutes, followed by a minute for each other position to offer rebuttals and ask questions of that position.
- Teachers could also give themselves a minute or two to ask questions or offer insights or ethical issues the groups may have missed in between. At the least, the teacher should monitor the time, provide transitions between positions, and moderate the debate.
- As a comprehension and application activity during the debate, you could ask students to take notes on the other positions’ presentations as they listen – you might ask them to restate the positions, identify the underlying values presented, or describe which ethical issues or stakeholders they find most compelling for each position. This could also be done via a “live blog”, or via a role play scenario where other students act as journalists reporting on what is happening in the debate.
- After all sides have been presented, allow time for students to revisit their original positions on the debate. They could cast their votes on a web platform anonymously or you can collect paper ballots. In class or as homework, students could reflect on what arguments and values impacted their personal stance on the debate.
- Take time to debrief the positions and the ethical decisions presented at the end of this class session or in a subsequent class session. Teachers could ask students to discuss how they navigated conflicting values and needs of stakeholders and which ethical principles were most compelling to them.
Key concepts this debate can cover:
- environmental ethics concepts
- power dynamics between managers, clients, and engineers
- health and safety of the public
- coercion and job security
- professional ethical standards
- government safety standards
- reporting processes and hierarchies
- stakeholders needs and values
- accountability and integrity
- natural resources economics, law, and policy.
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